While the Internet of Things promises a wealth of clever and connected new devices—a Jetsons-style future of Roombas reminding you of your next appointment and kitchen appliances rattling off ingredients—this techno-utopia hasn’t, with some notable exceptions, birthed a new type of design, one that integrates technology with industrial and user experience design.
The Italian collective Thingk is here to change that. A self-described blend of "design, engineering, and made-in-Italy," the group of engineers, designers, and developers ditched the "dumb" objects of the past in favor of a pair of beautiful prototypes they’re currently promoting on indiegogo: GKILO, a scale and clock with a subtle LED display that switches functions when flipped, and GLOGK, a wooden object that flips between clock and timer when touched. Both of these Arduino-based items are wired, integrated with an app, and perfect examples of what a well-designed, integrated kitchen may look like. Dwell spoke with team leader Stefano Marangoni to learn about the company’s development, designs, and manifesto.
With the internet of things, has the bar been raised for good design?
We feel good design is fundamental for the Internet of Things. Electronic devices will be more and more pervasive in our life. Continuing with the current trend, humanity will need a new model of human-machine interaction, a more humanistic, natural model, based on touch, voice and gesture. Moreover, the products need to show a good design, because they will be everywhere. Only multidisciplinary teams can be ready to accept this challenge. A designer needs to know something about electronics and software, and vice versa, because everything is merging. The competencies have to merge.
How did you test and design the user experience for this product? What was the most difficult part of creating the CLOGK and GKILO?
We believe in open design and we think that this philosophy will change the role and the working method of tech companies. For this reason, we involved our network—designers and geeks, but also common people—from the beginning to understand their needs and to collect suggestions on the best user interface. Then, and this was the most difficult part, we worked to give a natural touch to our products. We were inspired by the concept of Animism, so we tried to create devices that seem natural and totally unanimated and only when you touch them, they switch on, showing their functionality.
What's next? How do you see, say, a wireless kitchen evolving? What else will you add to the family?
We want to introduce one series per year, exploring the range of everyday objects and trying to innovate them. We are working on a mirror that provides useful information and a pillow that detects when you are asleep and switches on and off electronic devices and lights, and also monitors your sleep/wake cycles. Beside single devices, our goal is to revolutionize the segment of everyday products, introducing a new way of thinking to this category.
Is it important for you to build off the Arduino platform and make products and designs that can be expanded upon by the community?
The internet radically changed our way of life and also the relationship between manufacturers and consumers. Especially for objects made for the Internet of Things, we have to consider the social dimension. This has to be done at least at two levels. At function level, we have to think that we are the smartest and the more social animal species and we cannot accept interacting with objects that are not smart and not "social," or connected to each other. Smartness and sociability are part of us and we tend to construct a world that is similar to us.
Moreover, at development level, we have to consider that, thanks to the internet revolution, people are conscious of its importance and they want to be part of the development process, funding the best ideas (with crowdfunding), supporting the development of new features (with open source communities), helping the creative process (with open design). We are not talking anymore of consumers and fans, we are talking of communities.
During the course of his career writing about music and design, Patrick Sisson has made Stefan Sagmeister late for a date and was scolded by Gil Scott-Heron for asking too many questions. His work has appeared in Pitchfork, Nothing Major, Wax Poetics, Stop Smiling and Chicago Magazine.